A lesson in confronting the Lebanese state

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A banner near the Lebanese parliament building reads "No to the extension" in protest of the parliament's recent decision to extend its mandate. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

Published Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Last week proved that the enthusiasm of two young men protesting against the political status quo in Lebanon is enough to get the message across. Political groups do not need money, privately-owned media outlets, or the green light from anyone to attack or embarrass the system.

Some two years ago, Marwan Maalouf and Khatar Tarabay were discussing at a coffee shop in Tunis, where they both work, the reasons behind the apathy of college students in Lebanon and the inaction of political groups and syndicates. They compared the situation then to what was happening in the country a few years ago during a time of a tighter security and restrictions.

When the Lebanese parliament extended its mandate for the first time, [a year and a half ago] Maalouf sneaked in all alone, and erected a tent facing the parliament’s headquarters, disregarding other more traditional activities led by civil society organizations that were taking place near Martyr’s Square.

Along with Tarabay, Maalouf invested the public and media support he received following his arrest, to promote a new political movement, called “For the Republic.”

Both men categorically rejected forming another organization that would be added to the long list of local NGOs receiving their funding from foreign embassies and working on their behalf. They also refrained from rallying activists known for moving from one civil society movement to another while playing by the rules of the ruling political and economic system.

Compared to the financial capacities and the amount of services provided by the Free Patriotic Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, the Amal Movement, Kataeb, Hezbollah, and the Marada Movement, it was rather astonishing that the “For the Republic” managed to draw dozens of college students to its side. This first positive surprise was followed by brainstorming sessions aimed at finding activities that can be organized for free. The group also gained enough media coverage without paying any additional money, and avoided tackling controversial issues that have been dividing the country over the past two years.

Last Wednesday, For the Republic – the “political fruit” of this reunion between two young men – was the only group that took to the streets to oppose the extension of the parliament’s mandate. Although the rally was small compared to the magnitude of the event and did not have a protracted plan, the protesters (or at least some of them) were not some employees in local NGOs who demonstrated during their payable hours to convince their funders to renew their contracts, nor some political party members who are paid at the end of every month for their activities.

In this protest, the organizers did not cover the transportation, parking, or telephone fees of the participants. And although it is an exaggeration to estimate their number by the dozens, this small group that protested on Wednesday opted to break the silence that surrounds us at work and at home, whether with our relatives, friends, within our sect, and with everyone else.

Wednesday’s protesters echoed the insults that the Lebanese public opinion addressed on Facebook to the MPs who extended their own mandate.

Finally, a group of people have emerged and stood ready to block the road in front of MPs trying to reach parliament. Participants used all available means since tomato prices have gone up, and proved that making such a symbolic gesture does not require large rallies or huge sums of money. It does not even need a TV channel, a radio station, websites, or leaflets.

This means that it had been possible to block the road and prevent Abdel Menhem Youssef from reaching Ogero headquarters years ago, and Souheil Bouji would have been forced to get security escort to reach his office at the prime ministry headquarters. It could have been possible to assign a small group to “disturb” every employee accused of corruption or breaking the law. In fact, the addresses of the members of the Constitutional Council, who are refusing to address the issue of parliament extension, are well known, so are the addresses of those hindering people’s businesses and interests in the state’s administrations.

Last Wednesday’s protest, though weak and small, received public and media coverage comparable to other larger events, which suggests that dealing blows (even if not so painful at first) to the ruling political system, is not so hard after all.

In fact, it is the political forces who are finding it hard to convince their supporters that the political, economic, and security situation in the country is just fine and that their deputies deserve to extend their mandate, and that settlements are the best ways to realize change and reform.

In short, this new political movement should have a clear policy. There is no sense of protesting in order to topple the confessional regime if you do not protest to prevent the deputies from easily extending their mandate. In addition, the last protest would have made no sense, if you do not protest against any future electoral law that would bring this confessional system back to power, through the elections.

To conclude, this group should not only adhere to the conditions mentioned above, but it also has to follow up with the complaints of people from Chekka for example, suffering from [severe environmental] pollution, or with the cart owners in Tripoli who stood up against people trying to take away their only source of income.

Maybe the only positive aspect here is that no political party is competing with the group at this level, because at the end, political parties are today restricted to politicians, whether deputies, candidates, or free riders.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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